Saturday, September 29, 2007

Highline Ballroom


Last night I checked out some music at the Highline Ballroom. The Highline is a new venue in the Meatpacking district.

Out with the old, in with the new. Every year there is some small club or music hall that closes down. Sometimes they are monumental in stature and historical importance. Since I have been in New York i have lost some of my favorite venues...like the first venue in NY i went to, Tramps (i think i saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones). Then there are venues that close that are seminal centers and meeting places for musical communities like Wetlands. Even more important are the places that are so connected with a musical scene and social movement that closing it down is outright criminal...like CBGBs.

These places are all gone, but it seems that new ones pop up just as often...usually with some corporate name attached like the Nokia Theatre, or upscale bars turned into music halls like Coda. I am usually not very impressed with these new places. It might seem that my dislike of new venues comes from some misplaced nostalgia for the old haunts...but I don't care. Music is not just noise...it breathes. Seeing live music is as much about who you are with and where you are then what you are hearing. I am much happier sitting in a place like CBGBs staring at the old graffiti then sitting at some new sweatbox looking at adds for lavalife online dating service.

But that's just me.

Anyway, back to last night. To start with, I hate the meatpacking district. It smells of rancid meet and ratshit. I got there early, and had a half hour to kill. I went around the corner to one of the dirtiest and sleaziest bars in the city, Red Rock Saloon. I sat down after getting carded by a big hairy biker that recognized me from where I bartend...that's right, he knew first hand that i was a bartender and still carded me. I ordered a Wild Turkey and paid $8 bucks. I realized this was no longer the bar it once had been and was drinking fast so i could leave. After the self-labeled "queen of trash" bartender called me a pussy for not drinking a kamakazee shot, i got up and left.

I won't be missing that bar any time soon.

I got back to the Highline Ballroom just as my friends got there and we went in. Here are the things we noticed about the new venue.

  • Nobody was checking bags or frisking the concert goers.
  • There was no VIP section.
  • The beers were $5...cheaper than the local dive bar.
  • The stage was easily accessible and close to the crowd.
  • Nobody got busted for smoking.
  • Not too hot.
  • Clean bathrooms (that won't last long)

I loved it. Great venue. It opened in May and was obviously put together by someone who really loves live music. The sound was great everywhere, it was a nice wide room and easy to get back and forth, and looking at the schedule, they have good taste in music. Last night, it was a split bill between Assembly of Dust and JJ Grey & MOFRO.

AOD was good, but we were there to see MOFRO. For those of you who mock my hippie tendencies, this is not a Jamband. They are much loved in the live music scene but they are blues musicians. More to the point, they are down home-Florida swamp-sweaty funk, blues band...blues with and attitude. They pulled off a normal set last night, but the highlight was most definitely the cover of Muddy Water's Mannish Boy.

good night of music!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Socrates Sculpture Park


Along my long trek along the western Queens waterfront a few day ago, i came across a little sculpture garden on the water in Ravenswood called Socrates Sculpture Park.

It's hidden away along Vernon Blvd. Between Rainey Park and Hallets Cove. It is a small tract of land, next to old half emerged broken down piers and a private lot used as storage for some rusty industrial equipment. There are a few nice permanent sculptures surrounded by temporary exhibits. One in particular was very striking. Takashi Horisaki has an exhibit that makes note of Hurricane Katrina 730 days later. There is a recreated "Dislocated house from New Orleans". What wasn't clear was whether it was made from materials actually from the disaster...but it certainly seemed to be implied.

Up until now, i had never heard of the existence of such a park. So it has taken me a few days to find some more info on the area. It has a very good history. It was an artist reclamation project. Local artists, most notably Mark Di Suvero, took over a riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite and turned it into a vibrant public space. 20 Years later, it is under the umbrella of the New York City Parks Department but still run by the artists themselves.

It is not a place that most people will likely visit, but it should be known by many more people and used as an example by others. The waterfront in the area is getting not so slowly taken over by one real estate firm after the next. The waterfront should be public space...So, lets make sure it is!!!


I

Thursday, September 27, 2007

King Of Queens


As a lot of you know, I have never been very fond of Queens, or at least i like pretending i dislike it. I have always had fun calling it Long Island slittle cousin or poking fun at my friends who lived there. I don't know where that attitude came from but I do have some great history in Queens. I used to work at Queensborough Community College out in Springfield and at an environmental campaign office on Bell Blvd. in Bayside.

I also lived for a few months in Long Island City. That's where i took a trip yesterday. I biked through the great Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, over the Pulaski Bridge (a draw bridge over Newton Creek, one of the most heavily traveled lesser waterways in the country), and onto Queens territory.

Hunters Point is a very interesting neighborhood. Luxury apartment buildings rise above very old 3 story brownstones and cast a shadow over it's reputation as a lost neighborhood. On the water are 3 very nice restaurants, a tennis club and newly built public piers looking over the Manhattan skyline. Next to the park are the historic PepsiCola neon sign and 2 large boat cranes at the old mooring docks. This is pictured above as evidence that Brooklyn and Queens inclusion as part of Long Island is more than just a technicality.

The one thing I noticed on these docks and in the surrounding 5 blocks or so of upscale housing was the amount of police on duty. It might be that across the river is the U.N, but i bet that there has been some social growing pains so to speak from the sudden infusion of gentrified development...after all, you don't want all the nice people to have to walk from the water taxi to their castle without a police escort, do you?

North of this is Long Island City, home of the lone skyscraper in queens. When i lived in LIC, we used to joke that the Citibank building was a symbol of queens giving Manhattan the finger.
Traveling along the waterfront in Queensbridge, Dutch Kills and Ravenswood, is a scattered bike ride along Vernon Blvd. You can travel under the Queensborough Bridge, check out a few small waterside parks, and look across to Roosevelt Island. Also along this route are two very giant power stations...key span and con edison.

The ride gets very interesting as we hit Astoria we pass the north end of Roosevelt Island. There is a great little artist camp called Socrates Sculpture Garden and Hallets Cove Park overlooking a ragged waterfront, north Manhattan and the lighthouse on RI. Rounding this little hook into Hell Gate, the two northern bridges come into view. The Triborough and Hellgate bridges connecting the Bronx to Queens via Ward Island and Randals Island. Astoria Park at the foot of the bridge is a great place to hang out, but if you want a little more seclusion, check out a sunset over the bridges from Ralph Demarco Park right north of Ditmars.

That is as far north as you can get without breaking into the massive Con Edison Complex...which if you do (be careful) you can get a glimpse of Rikers Island.

I will be back soon to visit some of the sites of these fine neighborhoods, as for now, check out some more pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Tour Is One Month Old!


I announced a month ago today to the world...and by world, i mean about 70 of my friends and family...that I am leaving NY. And to prepare myself for my departure, I would embark on a multi-month Farewell Tour of my city to see as much of it as I could and with as many people as would go with me before i leave.

This exercise is very Buddhist in its spirit. I am trying to look straight ahead at my path and follow it one step at a time. But maybe now is a good time to take a rest on this path...sit on a rock and reflect on whats happened so far.

  • I have eaten at 5 restaurants that claim to have the best pizza in New York (and the world).
  • I have explored the waterfront of half of Manhattan and almost all of Brooklyn.
  • I've seen 15 sunsets...over water!
  • I climbed down a manhole!
  • Sat in over 3 dozen city parks including one built 70 feet in the air on top of a sewage treatment plant.
  • Walked across the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges.
  • Taken a few thousand pictures.
  • Rediscovered NYC street art.
  • Biked over 300 miles this month...at least! (maybe i should start counting)
  • Seen music in central park.
  • Accidentally broke the taxi strike.
  • Forgot that I have a TV at home!

So...whats next for my tour? I haven't seen too many museums over the last 5 years, i haven't eaten in many restaurants at all in my NYC life. I was never at the top of the Empire State, Crystler or Woolworth Building. I never went to Ellis Island. And I have never circumnavigated Roosevelt Island. Perhaps I will do these things soon.

For now, while the weather is good and my bike holds up, (its a little injured now) i want to do more of the "explore as much of the city as I can do by bike" thing. I have the hope of being able to cover ALL of the waterfront in all 5 boroughs. So far, so good.

I did go on a journey to Queens today...but that's for next time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

THE COOLEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE!!!


OK, maybe it wasn't the coolest thing I have ever done...but it was pretty cool!

Yesterday, I went with a friend on a tour of the oldest subway tunnel in the world: The Atlantic Ave. Tunnel. This tunnel lay abandoned and mostly unknown for the better part of 150 years. Now, for a short amount of time it is open to the public for small viewing tours.

I knew this tour was going to be different when I called to reserve my spot and was told to bring clothes to get dirty in and my own flashlight. Then when we got there on Sunday and we saw that we had to shimmy down a man-hole in the middle of Atlantic ave., i knew for sure this was going to be as fun as i had hoped.

More about this tunnel; The tunnel was built in 1844 to connect the canal system (Erie canal) that was becoming outdated with the newly emerging railroad system. The Long Island Railroad needed to get trains to the docks in redhook but couldn't go through Brooklyn Heights to do it. Without the invention of air-brakes for the trains it would have taken about 3-4 city blocks to stop. They weren't so concerned about hitting people, since it was still illegal at the time to sue the railroad, but they were concerned about derailing the train...so a tunnel it was.

It was built as an open-cut trench that was covered over using a barrel vault. It was 21 feet wide and about 40 feet below street level. A similar trench was later dug to build the Murray Hill Tunnel in the 1850's. It has been called the first subway tunnel ever, seeing as it was built 20 years before and used as a model for the London Subway. But historians point out that it was not truly a subway tunnel because there were no subway stations. Semantics aside, this was a first of its kind.

After the tunnel was completed it was used for shipping as well as a connector from downtown Brooklyn and the Ferry Terminals to Manhattan. The tunnel itself was 2,750 and ran from Boerum Place to Columbia street.

Walt Whitman who has written about all things Brooklyn, rode the route often and wrote this in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

The old tunnel, that used to lie there under ground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten, with all its reminiscences; however, there will, for a few years yet be many dear ones, to not a few Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and promiscuous crowds besides. For it was here you started to go down the island, in summer. For years, it was confidently counted on that this spot, and the railroad of which it was the terminus, were going to prove the permanent seat of business and wealth that belong to such enterprises. But its glory, after enduring in great splendor for a season, has now vanished—at least its Long Island Railroad glory has. The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent. How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom! It might not be unprofitable, now and then, to send us mortals—the dissatisfied ones, at least, and that's a large proportion—into some tunnel of several days' journey. We'd perhaps grumble less, afterward, at God's handiwork.


It took Irish Laborers only 7 months to complete the entire tunnel. It was opened in 1845 and the ends closed over in 1861. After that, the existence of the tunnel was largely forgotten. In 1916 the FBI drilled holes into the tunnel suspecting that German agents were secretly making mustard gas underground. They found nothing and paved over the holes, but the tunnel side holes are still visible. It was broken into in the 1920 and used for bootlegging and opened once again in the 40's to search for spies.

After the 1950's it was once again pushed away from the collective memory of the public until an 18 year old student went searching for the tunnel he had read about. He had connected the many dots spread out over books, oral history and old documents sitting in unopened boxes in Borough Hall. In 1982 Bob Diamond found his holy grail under a manhole at Atlantic and Court street. And that is good for New York.

Yesterday we saw what Bob had found. We got to climb down the manhole to a small 3 foot opening, down a very narrow walkway and through another small hole. Once through all that, the tunnel opened up and looked like...well a tunnel. It was dark and hot and dusty and cool as hell. There were a few dozen of us down there and we were escorted by Bob Diamond himself, down the length of the tunnel, each of us lighting the tunnel with our own flashlights. Bob told us the tale of the tunnel, the tale of his rediscovery and his hope for the future of the tunnel and the Brooklyn waterfront.

It was obvious that bob loves Brooklyn. The fate of the tunnel is still in the hand of the city bureaucracy, but would probably do better in the hands of Mr. Diamond and his crew.

to take the tour yourself check out this page: http://www.newyorkology.com/archives/2007/09/next_atlantic_a_1.php

For some pictures of the tunnel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fort Greene Park Tree Trail


I had big plans today to spend many hours visiting Central Park...but it rained. As much as i love New York when it rains, this wasn't one of those fun, poetic rainy days. This was hot, humid, almost unbearable type of weather. So i sat inside and read a little about my neighborhood here in Clinton Hill and nearby Fort Greene.

When the rain stopped, i decided to walk the whole 4 blocks and take a look at Fort Greene Park. It was still about 85% humidity and very ugly outside, which meant I had the park to myself. It's a small park in comparison to NY's large parks (about 30 acres) but it is as old as the City of Brooklyn itself.

I remember the first time i moved the neighborhood (across Atlantic Ave. in Prospect Heights) I knew nothing about the area and was biking around looking for a bike shop when suddenly I "discovered" Fort Greene Park, as if I was the first one to ever see it. Haha.

I was so enthralled with its giant hills that i promised myself I'd come back when it snowed to go sledding. I never did.

Sounds like I've got something already planned this winter!

Anyway, the park itself was developed around the Fort on the hill that was built to protect Brooklyn from British attacks during the Revolutionary War. There was never any need for the fort as no battle ever came near it, but the hill and the Fort has loomed over Wallabout Bay and the Harbor ever since.

After many years of prompting by the likes of Walt Whitman, who repeatedly called for a Brooklyn Park to act as a "Lung" of open air, the park was commissioned by the city to the famous creators of Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux, in 1864 and was named Washington Park (Olmsted later built a park in Albany by the same name).

The Fort, originally called Fort Putnam, and the park was renamed after General Nathanial Greene during the war of 1812. The defining features of the park are a small army salute ground with two ceremonial cannons, the very large staircase leading up to the summit and the large memorial to the Prison Ship Martyrs who were cruelly kept in a ship's prison and left to die by the British in the bay.

As I walked about the park today, i noticed something about the park that is fairly new. There is now a Fort Greene Park Tree Trail. Newly marked, there is a nice walk through the park you can take along a trail of 39 species of trees. Each one is marked with a small plaque describing the species and the local significance.

It was nice to see. I imagine it is a nice small half-day school trip or even a one-period trip for earth science class from the local Brooklyn Tech High School.

It wasn't the huge day through central park I had hoped for...but it was nice and very close.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Going Back To Brooklyn...Again!


Brooklyn is Huge!

I have been on my farewell tour for almost a month now and have spent most days exploring Brooklyn, and i feel like i could spend the next 5 months doing the same without seeing the same thing twice. At 2.5 million people, BK is our most populated borough. And if tomorrow, NYC split into 5 separate cities, BK would be the 3rd largest city in the U.S.

Brooklyn is, in my opinion, the most diverse and unique of all 5 boroughs. Before it was incorporated into NY in 1898, Brooklyn was a county of very individual small towns that still make up the very individual great neighborhoods. Each hood with its own flavor and signature sites. While biking back from Bay Ridge 2 days ago and again for a few hours yesterday i went riding through some of the less famous areas in my favorite borough.

There is Gowanus, known mosty for its dirty shipping canal and equally infamous section of highway.

Sunset Park, a very residential neighborhood with a strong Mexican and Chinese communities and a great elevated park with...you guessed it...great sunsets.

Windsor Terrace, a kind of crossroads of Western Brooklyn. Its adjacent to Prospect Park and Park Slope, but much more of a family neighborhood than those closer to Manhattan.

Ditmars Park/Kennsington. There is no actual Park in Ditmars Park, at least none that I could find. In a city and a borough that is known for its diversity, this area is probably the most actually diverse anywhere in NYC. Its newly renovated makeup includes a lot of young new homeowners and with it, new business and a new identity.

Dyker Heights. Not known just for its Golf Course, although the links and adjacent park take up most of the community. It is a very Italian Neighborhood closely linked to Bay Ridge.

Bath Beach-Gravesend. There is not much to say about a lot of these old neighborhoods. They are some of the oldest in new york and hold the feeling somewhat of a waterside town in Long Island, but much more close knit. There are a lot of houses in a small amount of space. These neighborhoods are ones that most New Yorkers will never see unless you know someone who lives there. Unlike the neighborhoods in the north-west side, there is no sense of Manhattan here. This is Brooklyn!!!

One very large spot of note in Western Brooklyn is Green-wood cemetery. 478 acres of rolling hills and a baroque style chapel, Green-wood is with Vesey Church and the African Burial Sites in Manhattan, one of the most significant cemeteries in New York. It holds the remains of great Brooklynites and New Yorkers like Leonard Bernstein, Basquiat, F.A.O Shwartz, Boss Tweed, Edward R Murrow and Brooklyn mobster Albert Anastasia.

There is so much to see in these neighborhoods, it is really hard to focus on any of them. I've set out to see all of new york, and when there aren't any obvious landmarks as such...its gets somewhat overwhelming.

I didn't really have any destinations in any of these spots. I just kind of aimlessly rode around. I've heard people say that you can't know a neighborhood without eating a meal there...or possible spending a few hours in a local bar, but i didn't know where to go, so just biking through will have to be enough for now. I don't want to do these area any injustice. I do kind of feel like I'm making sweeping judgements on the communities of probably over a half million people, but i hope I'm not. I'm just trying to see as much as I can. I am trying not to make any kind of judgements on people in this quest, just get a visual and sometimes historic sense of what makes up New York.


pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nothing but the Water


The walled city is what they called Brooklyn. All the red brick warehouses on the water from redhook to greenpoint looking more like a fortress than a harbor. What happens when even that amount of industrialized waterfront isn't enough? Just keep expanding south.

Yesterday I biked enough Brooklyn Waterfront neighborhoods to cover the entirety of Manhattan. This either proves how big Brooklyn is...or exactly how small Manhattan is. Anyway, my journey today brought me from the Gowanus canal, around the Bay Ridge bikeway through the Narrows and all the way out to Gravesend Bay.

I suppose the only spot of note for most people would be the Verrazano Bridge, and maybe the American Veteran's Memorial Pier off of Bay Ridge Ave....but you know me. I'd rather spend time hanging out near the run-down warehouses. So I did. Most of the west side of Brooklyn by the water is taken up by the Bush Terminal Warehouses. It's impossible to get on the water here, but if you want to see some very interesting stuff, take your bike on a ride down 1st ave.

1st ave? There is no 1st ave. in Brooklyn you say? Well there is...on the other side of the Gowanus Expressway and past any remnants of a residential neighborhood. 39th st. to 58th st. This stretch of old road is all broken cobblestone, criss-crossed by more rusty train tracks than anywhere you have seen. This is where all the old shipping companies unloaded and sent their goods by train to everywhere else on Long Island. There are more than a dozen overgrown, but still-used piers that still have the original but unused train terminals on them.

This would be a great place to film a zombie movie!

After a few hours checking out every crevice I could and getting eyeballed by all the dock security all day, i moved on toward Bay Ridge. I used to live in Bay Ridge. It was a great apartment for pretty cheap...but it was an hour and a half commute to the upper west side.

sidenote: i have become increasingly suspicious of neighborhoods without grafitti.


I speed through the old neighborhood and a take a quick ride up Shore Road (great houses) to get to the water. From Owl's Head park, you can pretty much ride along the water all the way to queens. The bad part about this is for most of it you are huffing fumes from all the cars on the Belt Parkway. However in Bay Ridge it is a great public path underneath the Verrazano Bridge. This was, when it was built in 1959, the first bridge that was big enough that the design needed to take into the consideration the curvature of the earth. At 13,700 feet (4,260 main span) it was for decades the largest suspension bridge in the world.

It is still massive, impressive and without a pedestrian walk or bike path. Although i did try once to walk across it before coming to my senses.

Long story short, the sunset was great and i headed inland to get some of that famous Bay Ridge Pizza. Now, like i said, i lived there. I knew my favorite pizza places, but none of them were the best in NY. So before i went out i did some online research and came up with 3 names.

Rocco's Pizza
Grandma's Pizza
Elegante's Pizza

Boy, what a great job of self promotion. Their names came up everywhere on the internet. But when i went there, they were holes-in-the wall and nothing special. They all had good pizza, but c'mon...best in NY? I will say that place for place, Bay Ridge probably is the best neighborhood for pizza, only because that all 35 pizza places have good quality new york style pizza. But as far as I'm concerned none of them stand out in any meaningful way.

From now on, i am getting all my food recommendations word of mouth from people i trust.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Redhook


My storm through the Brooklyn Waterfront continues.

Yesterday I spent a few good hours biking through Redhook. There are arguments over the exact borders of this neighborhood, but for the purposes of this blog, its anything on the west side of the BQE as far south as the Gowanus Canal.

I almost lived here once. I really wish i had. Maybe its my fascination with industrial neighborhoods, or the writer in me that likes the underbelly and seediness of the docks after dark, or the photographer that likes the rough and rusty buildings next to giant collapsing cranes. Perhaps its just the way it is removed from the rest of New York...in every way possible. There are no subway stops, no developed neighborhoods. I was riding down the main strip yesterday (Columbia) and it was the first chilly day of fall. I smelled the distinct and nostalgia inducing smell of a wood burning stove. where else can you find that...while looking out at the Statue of Liberty?

More than anything about my little journey I'm finding, I am addicted to interesting waterfronts. Redhook is all waterfront. Most of it is closed to the public, being the largest post civil war docking port. In fact, as i found out yesterday while walking around the old Beard St. Warehouse pier that after the civil war Brooklyn became so filled with large red-brick warehouses that it earned the nickname "The Walled City."

The inner part of redhook has grown to a very eclectic neighborhood. It has the same feel as former industrial areas turned artsy enclaves as places like Williamsburg or Greenepoint but has much less pretension (probably because it is very far removed, physically, from other parts of the city). There are great little cafes and bars and one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Alma's of the corner of DeKalb and Columbia.

As the sun was setting i headed toward the Pier again. There is a great old abandoned train just sitting on the walkway outside of the entrance to the NYC water taxi. There is also a waterfront piazza outside of the Fairway market that is open to the public. From the water's edge you can see the Verazanno Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and lower Manhattan.

The sunset was spectacular. As you may be noticing i have become very fond of finding great places to watch sunsets...a hobby i hope to pass on to as many of you as I can.

Check out this website for more Redhook Stuff: http://www.redhookwaterfront.com/_hi.main/index.html

and as always...my fickr site.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Riverbank State Park


The biggest park you've never heard of.


There is a park on the westside of Manhattan on the waterfront that is built on top of a wastewater treatment plant. That's right they built a park right on top of a SEWAGE treatment plant...and its great.


City planners stole a great idea from rooftop parks that had been successfully designed in Japan and decided lets put one next to the westside highway. Its 28 acres, has an Olympic sized pool, tennis courts, ice-rink an 800 person performance amphitheatre on the Hudson river and everything else that parks should have. This one just happens to be on top of a sewage treatment plant...i don't know why, but i find that funny.


It's up about 70 feet above the water, and unless you were on the edge looking out over the river and the George Washington Bridge you'd never know where you were. It has real grass and planted trees with benches, flowers and nice places to generally enjoy yourself in peace.

For a city that loves it's parks, I'm a little surprised that more people haven't heard of Riverbank.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Little Red Light House


The main reason for yesterday's trip to the Westdise bike path was to take one more look at the Little Red Lighthouse underneath the George Washington Bridge.

It's not very impressive and serves no actual function that a normal lighthouse would serve. However, there it sits in the shadow of the bridge. You can't see it from the bridge, you can't see it from the highway, you can barely even see it from the bike path until you are right upon it.

Instead of writing a little bit about the ligthouse, why don't i just re-print the history as it appears on the lighthouse itself:

The Little Red Lighthouse stopped being used as a functional lighthouse long ago, but over the years this 40-foot-high structure has become a beacon of another kind. Located underneath the George Washington Bridge along this treacherous section of the Hudson River once known as Jeffrey’s Hook, this is one of the few surviving lighthouses in New York City and serves as a quaint reminder of the area’s history.

Long ago, Native Americans known locally as the Wiechquaesgeck—part of the Lenape tribe—inhabited much of upper Manhattan and eastern New Jersey. The Wiechquaesgeck, and later the Dutch and English colonists, fished and hunted along the banks of the Hudson River. The Hudson was also an important route for travel, connecting upstate cities such as Albany to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. As traffic increased along the river, so did the number of shipwrecks at Jeffrey’s Hook. In an attempt to reduce accidents, a red pole was placed at Jeffrey’s Hook jutting out over the river to warn travelers of danger. In 1889, two 10-candlepower lanterns were placed on the pole to aid navigation. Much of the land surrounding the lighthouse, including the riverbanks of Jeffrey’s Hook, was acquired by the City in 1896, and became known as Fort Washington Park.

In the early 20th century, barge captains carrying goods up and down the Hudson demanded a brighter beacon. The Little Red Lighthouse had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1,000 pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffrey’s Hook in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse, then known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete. In 1948, the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and its lamp was extinguished.

The Coast Guard planned to auction off the lighthouse, but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until a great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. The classic tale captured the imaginations of children and adults, many of whom wrote letters and sent money to help save the icon from the auction block.

On July 23, 1951, the Coast Guard gave the property to Parks, and on May 29, 1979, the Little Red Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It did not receive much attention over the years, until City Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin worked with Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern to find funding for its restoration. In 1986, Parks hosted a party in honor of the lighthouse’s 65th anniversary and to celebrate a $209,000 renovation to the lighthouse that included reconstruction of the concrete foundation and the installation of new steel doors. In the year 2000, the lighthouse received a fresh coat of red paint that is true to its original, historic color, along with new interior lighting and electric lines. Today, the Little Red Lighthouse remains a stalwart symbol of the area’s heritage, lighting the way into the city’s past


West Side Bike Path


Gym? Who needs a gym when you have a bike and a 10 mile bike path up the Hudson River? While i worked down on Murray st., i used to ride daily along the path from Chambers St. and as far up as the George Washington Bridge and back. It is a nice flat ride (with the wind it doesn't always seem so).

Yesterday i traveled to upper Manhattan and tried to check out some of the lesser known entrances to the waterfront and the bike path. I found some very rugged bikeways, rusty-fenced pedestrian walkways, sketchy tunnels, abandoned train tracks and a few dead-ends. From the Westside highway you can see all the rock walls and tall staircases down from Riverside...i walked down that too. I visited the GW bridge and the little red lighthouse then slowly, with many stops along the way, rode all the way back down to the battery.

This bike path, interrupted only once at 125th st., has gone under a monumental change since 4 years ago, which was the last time I rode the entire length of the path. But how exactly has it changed?

For a city completely surrounded by water, the waterfront in Manhattan, especially on the Hudson river has rarely been seen as a focus of the city. I never understood why most of the city wasn't planned from the water in. In most places, the most expensive properties are on the water. Maybe the view of New Jersey was just that unappealing?

For most of NYC history, the area along the Hudson River has been a bit of a wasteland. From neighborhood garbage dump to railroad coal deposits, there wasn't much natural beauty left. Add some good old fashioned Robert Moses urban development and there might as well not even be a waterfront.

Over the last 25 years, all that has changed. Neighborhood alliances, community groups and environmental organizations have all had a hand in forcing the city to finally embrace the waterfront and give it to the public. I suppose its my cynical nature, but i am very surprised that the entire waterfront hasn't been given to large real-estate developers to build uber-expensive high rise apartments. Some deals have been made, to the Donald Trumps of the city, but with the caveat that the buildings aren't actually on the waterfront and they have to help in building up the Hudson River greenway.

Riding on the path yesterday, i see what they have done. Some of it is exactly what you would expect. Riverside cafes with overpriced fruity drinks, and some family friendly entertainment like batting cages and a trapeze school. And i do question any of the newly built public piers on their environmental impact on the river. But a large amount of the path was a straight clean-up job and finding creative ways to utilize unique space under and next to the highway. There are great viewing areas hidden from the highways by newly planted trees and even the highly priced cafe allowed me to sit at the nicely shaded veranda tables without having to buy anything.

I'd say that having the Hudson riverfront as an almost 100% public space is one of the best city planning coups in our history. I think its great. The most northern section of the path is still a common community gathering point for weekend barbecues and open field soccer matches. I hope that it is not touched anymore than patching some of the bike path that is crumbling a bit.

Really, many of the urban planning decisions in New York have been money driven, poorly planned, with outright discrimination or without consideration for the environment or the public. But I think they finally got one right.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Prospect Park


I have never fully appreciated Prospect Park. I have lived in 5 apartments within bike distance of the park and one less than a half a block away, and yet i never had that personal connection with the park that i have with Central Park. I do know the park very well. I used to play volleyball every Sunday with regulars from my favorite local bar Mooney's, i have biked the bike path (including the hardest hill in the city) many, many times, and I believe i know the park inside an out. I guess its like most things though...you like the first one you know a little better.

Today i sent out to spend all day in the park checking out all corners of this Brooklyn landmark. Unlike Central park, Prospect park hides the surrounding city very well. You rarely see much of the Brooklyn cityscape and you can rarely hear the cars on the bordering streets. It is as meticulously designed as Central park, but for many reasons, it feels a little less developed that anywhere in the city.

It was designed in 1866 by the same pair as CP, Fredrick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. They developed the most unique park in the world and finished in just under 10 years. They were so absolutely meticulous about their creation that when the ravine renovation took place in 2003, it was made easier because all the rocks were numbered in case they were ever displaced by erosion. That's right...they numbered the rocks!!!

Here are a few other facts about Prospect Park:

  1. The park's crowning feature, "The Long Meadow" at ninety acres is the largest meadow in any U.S Park.
  2. The entire waterway inside the park is all man-made.
  3. Before it was a park, the land was called "Battle Pass" in mark of the Revolutionary War "Battle of Long Island."
  4. The Ravine and the surrounding forest was created to feel like areas in the Adirondacks.
  5. The Audubon Center is the only such center in an Urban setting.
  6. The prospect park lake is the only lake in Brooklyn.

I highly recommend spending time in the park and the other surrounding sites like the Brooklyn Museum, Library and the Botanical Gardens.

On my travels today, I did find a section of the park that i hadn't seen before. The "Concert Grove." Biking from the Audubon Center at the boathouse towards Woleman Rink you pass through a shady carved out area filled with benches and a healthy overhang of trees. It looks like a great place to read and avoid any kind of crowd. Marking the edges of the grove are large pedestals with Busts of famous composers. Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Grieg, etc. None of them are American composers which is curious, seeing as Olmstead got serious critique for breaking with European tradition when his design was released.

The best place for volleyball or frisbee is from the Prospect Park West and 3rd street entrance. The best place for a nice barbecue is a few hundred feet in from the southwest corner. The best sunset from the park is from the Gazebo on the lake near the ice-rink.

check out some of today's pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11

So, as much as I don't really like having conversations about 9/11, maybe today 6 years later its time to tell my story. It is not a story of heroism or hardship. It is not a story riddled with a political agenda or one with social commentary or answers or conclusions. It is just my version of what happened to me and what I saw.

9/11 was on a Tuesday. I remember this because it was primary elections that day. On the ballot was the primary for the mayors race. Guiliani was stepping down and it looked like whomever won the Democratic primary (either Freddie Ferrar or Mark Green) would become the next mayor.

I was working at NYPIRG at the time and as usual, we had a very extensive Voter Helpline setup. All day New Yorkers could call us up and find out where their polling site was or call us to complain about being turned away or a faulty machine and we would try and put pressure on the Board Of Elections or whoever we could to get the problem fixed ASAP. I didn't work on our voter campaign at the time, but everyone on election day had to take a shift staffing the phones. So i had to be at the office on Murray St. between Broadway and Church by 10:00 to start my shift.

Living in Williamsburg at the time, I came in on the L-train and transferred to the downtown R. As the train came to my stop there was a big announcement on the train that because of an emergency, the next stop, Rector St. would be the last stop on the train. Stopped trains, delayed trains, and emergencies were nothing that unordinary during rush hour so nobody took it as an "EMERGENCY".

It was just about 9:00 a.m.

I got out and came up to the street at Murray on the City Hall Park side of the street and immediately noticed that something was wrong. People were nervously walking through the streets and there was a strange buzz, but i was tired and didn't think much of it. I went to my normal coffee stand on Broadway and walked toward my office. As I approached i ran into my friend Marvin who was NYPIRG's bookkeeper. He shook his head and said "ain't this something."

"What?"

"The plane he said...go look" as he pointed up towards the towers.

From the 3rd floor office you could always clearly see the top of the towers, but from the street, i had to go up to Church to see them. So I started towards the intersection. I get within 50 feet and BANG. The ground shakes, the buildings rock and bow like something out of the Matrix. and debris comes shooting down Broadway past my view. I see something giant bounce off the top of the building on the SW corner of Murray and B-way and then take out the street sign. It was a plane engine. Later on I would see pictures of both the engine on the street and the sign lying mangled on the street.

People were running wildly in every direction.

At this point i still don't understand what was going on. I didn't know that while i was still on the subway, a plane flew into the World Trade Center and until i looked up now, i didn't know a second plane just hit. But when i do look up, I can't look away. I stand on that corner looking at the top 2o floors of the towers on fire. I'm stuck in time with about 30 others on that corner with the burning engine just feet away.

Another friend catches me standing there frozen with my coffee still in my hand and tells me that we should go upstairs to the office.

When i get upstairs the Voter Helpline is still in full swing. Most of the city has no idea what is going on...neither do we really. My boss, and the team running the phones are in discussions on what we should do. There are still a handful of people working for NYPIRG that were in the very same building back in the early 90s when the first bombing attempt at the WTC happened. They, like most other are convinced that this is probably just going to end with a people a little shook up but not much more.

The discussion on whether or not to keep the phones up and open is left to an individual basis. The calls kept coming in and people who were willing to take them, answered the phone. Needing to get outside, I went out with a few co-workers into the same intersection. It was a bad choice. I did not want to see what i saw. Small figures dropping from the top floors of the towers. Unmistakably human figures leaping out of the windows billowing with smoke. As long as I live. That will be my lasting nightmare.

I went back upstairs and tried to answer a few calls. On my way from the elevator, a giant rumble shook everything...everything. I looked out the window to see the top of the tower tilt and fall. Within a minute, amongst muffled screams, cries the rumble and confusion, the whole street was covered in a giant white cloud. The tower had fell!

A very clear thinking co-worker came up to me and said "we have to tape up the windows now."

Our building was old and the window frames were crumbling and smoke was getting in. I went with her around our floor and taped up the windows as best we could. Along our route, i overheard a radio broadcaster saying that the Pentagon had gotten bombed along with the State Department and other federal buildings in other cities. What the hell was going on?

When i got back to the office lobby, a friend that used to work at NYPIRG came in a looked confused. Marianna was her name and as she came in she said "I work at the north tower, i have nowhere to go...i was late for work...i never got inside."

People were trying to call family members but the phone lines kept going in and out. I got a call from someone who used to work for me, Lourdes who was calling from Swarthmore and i got a call out to my sister who was working in midtown. Being a bunch of organizers, we quickly paired off into teams. Each team had a destination and a we made plans to get out of the building. I handed out wet paper towels as makeshift smoke masks. The first team went down the stairs and out. I was in the second team. As we walked down the stairs, RUMBLE. That noise, that feeling, that all was happening again. We ran back upstairs and knew the second tower was gone.

Outside the taped windows was a thicker cloud of black smoke.

The elevator opened and a Police Officer came out covered in soot. He wasn't there to try and tell us to get out. He was caught in the smoke and ours was the only open door on the block. We gave him water and he left with his radio blaring the chaos from the street.

That first team never came back, they had made it to the street and had to run from the black cloud. They were all OK, but Marianna was in that group and i still haven't talked to her to this day. We left 30 minutes later and could not believe what it looked like outside. Everything was covered in feet of soot. It was a very surreal kind of scene and i saw things amongst the rubble i still can't talk about.

I spent a lot of time with good friends over the next few weeksand i spent a lot of time by myself. I was allowed with police escort to return the office to gather some supplies a few days later, and spent the next 6 years trying to sort out my feelings on what happened.

Over the next few months i drank every night at the Raccoon Lodge on Warren St. To get there, I had to show my passport, my social security card, a pay stub with the address in the red zone and answer several questions. Why did i drink there? It was my bar, my friends were there. There were rescue workers and only people with reason to be downtown. That bar kept many people sane and together during a situation of absolute terror.

Tonight is the 6th anniversary of 9/11 and in a few hours i have to go bartend at the Raccoon lodge where now, as fate would have it...i work.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rainy Days and Writers


Its a rainy day here in New York and not a very nice one at that. Normally a little rain wouldn't stop me from going outside or at worst would drive me into the closest movie theatre (which i might do later). Rainy days in New York are like mirrors. If you are stressed out, it makes you very stressed out, and it shows. If you are happy, you enjoy walking around getting a little wet and notice how the colors of the skyline get crisper as the rain drives away the heavy air. As a guy who relies on my bicycle to get around the city, i prefer to travel without rain, but if it has to rain, so be it.

Today i didn't brave the very heavy humidity or the small but constant drizzle, and i decided to use the day to do some overdue writing on my book project. So why not use some of the day to reflect on all the great New York City writers. New York has given either home or inspiration to some of the most influential writers over the past few centuries.

As far back as Ben Franklin who called NYC home for a little while, writers have flocked to NY to get lost and then found in the chaos of NY.

Walt Whitman loved New York and especially Brooklyn. He used to write for the Brooklyn Eagle.

O'Henry used to drink at Pete's Tavern near Union Square.

Dylan Thomas drank himself to death at the White Horse Tavern in the west village...a bar that has hosted many other NYC writers such as Norman Mailer, James Baldwin and Hunter S. Thomson.

There are a host of modern TV comedy writers that have made sketch comedy relevant well past its time from inside the strange world of Saturday Night Live.

Henry Miller screwed his way through every dance hall, speak easy and rich patron's uptown abode...then wrote about it.

Edward Albee, and Mel Brooks lead the list of noteworthy NY city playwrights.

Don DeLillo and Frank McCourt have written great portraits of life in New York.

There are hundreds of others that should be on the list, but you get the point.

No other group however, except perhaps Whitman, has laid claim to mark their time in New York with the pen better that the Beat Poets. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs lead this list with pride. Joyce Glassman Johnson wrote about this scene years later.

And of course the man who the Beat writers claim to have been influenced by the most, Thomas Wolfe.

I want to explore some of these writers more in the coming months but for now, its on to my own New York book. Its a book about life as a bartender in the city. Its a book without a title so far, but the title should come last, don't you think?

People should read more.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Street Music


New Yorkers have a Love/Hate relationship with street musicians.

I remember while I was still going to Mannes College Of Music, 3 friends of mine (all string players) traveled around Europe and payed their way by playing Mozart string trios on the streets of Paris, Salzburg, Dresden...etc.

Amazing, I thought. How great it was that European citizens supported young musicians so generously. How awful it was that New Yorkers didn't!!! But I was wrong. Musicians are everywhere in NYC. We have the largest theatre and Opera companies in the world, hundreds of smaller music venues, ensembles, troupes, studios and yes, we have street musicians of every kind around every corner. And without the love and support of the public, they would have been gone a long time ago.

Go to any park on a summer weekend, you can find talented (and not so talented) musicians entertaining the public for small donations. Some have found great success like Guitar Man in Central Park or that kid that drummed on upside down plastic buckets that was discovered and put in a Mariah Carey video. Some are singing for dinner, or their kids dinner, and are trying to make money the only way they can. Some others have no where else to practice. More than one musician started out looking for a little change and ended up finding the real meaning of music.

For every guy you find annoying on the 5 train singing badly for a few cents interrupting your precious reading time, there are 10 others out there with tremendous talent. And for every 19 year-old white kid with a $2,000 guitar begging for change while butchering his way through Dave Mathew's cover songs, there are dozens of song writers with no other place to play.

Do yourself a favor...stop and listen. It may not be long before that woman you passed by this morning on your way to Starbucks is selling out Madison Square Garden. And it may not be long before some dumbass politician writes a bullshit law and bans it all outright.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Music in Central Park


This is the first of what will probably be several posts about music and probably the first of many posts about central park.

On Thursday i went with 3 friends to go see a show at Rumsey Playfield, or better known as Summerstage. Of all the music I have seen and all the venues I've been to, this was only the second time i had been to summerstage. I have always found the contrast of Central Park and the surrounding city to be the kind of paradox that makes life here interesting. Add some music and a beautiful breezy summer night and life seems perfect.

The bands were two of my favorite; Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Gov't Mule. I have been talking about these bands to everyone who would listen for years now. It was good to be able to bring some friends to some good music. They did not disappoint. Grace Potter, as always, came into the night largely unknown and left with a few hundred new die-hard fans and a few lifelong crushes. Mule, lead by the great Warren Haynes ripped through another amazing night of music anchored by an encore sit-in by Jimmy Vivino. I only wish they had been allowed to play longer...but alas, the central park curfew kept the show to 3 hours (4 if you include the opening act).


Besides the great concert, it was one of those great and memorable New York nights. We met some fun interesting people (one guy named Axl who just walked by and gave us a few beers), some crazy people who towed in a nitrous tank that turned out to be the life of the after party (i don't know how someone gets a huge nitrous tank past the heavy showtime park security (who vigorously stopped the crowd from getting to the port-o-potties after the show) and then a cartoonish cab ride downtown with a cab driver that kept amusing himself by repeating the phrase "chunky monkey" over and over again. I love it!

To repeat the slogan of one of my favorite websites, Jambase; GO SEE LIVE MUSIC!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Three Bridges on the Brooklyn Waterfront


After my lunch at the famous Grimaldi's Pizza, i went off by myself to explore the Brooklyn Waterfront. Explore is the right word. It is a maze of inlets, dead ends, bridge pylons, shipping outposts and warehouses that is unlike anywhere in city.


Standing on the Fulton Landing, if you looked south, there are miles of industrial land spotted with a few open public viewing areas like those in redhook (maybe I'll go next week). Looking north, there are the 3 of the east river's 5 main bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge (BB), Manhattan Bridge (MB) and Williamsburg Bridge (WB). Being a NYC cyclist, i have had a very intimate knowledge of these bridges for some time...that is i have crossed them many times. Under them however, especially on the Brooklyn side is very unique.


I set out to see the waterfront under these bridges at every possible opening on the water...most of which are legally available to the public. Right under the BB is a nicely developed public park that offers great views of the Manhattan skyline. Its a great place for a walk, a quiet lunch or morning coffee with your paper. But, i did not want to spend the day at another postcard viewing deck so off i went up river.


The road under the MB is Plymouth. It, like most in the neighborhood is crumbling cobblestone. But this street has old trolley tracks exposed. Its a nice aesthetic I'm sure the neighborhood likes and would defend in the face of any kind of modern paving. This is DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) a nice hidden niche of semi legal renovated warehouses that has become one of the most coveted neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Good bars, quaint cafes and amazing views of the city and very cool looks at the bridges from underneath. I once had an opportunity to live in a 2000 square foot space for under $700. Not anymore...but that's how that goes.


Just north of the MB is a hidden village...one of New York's few gated communities. I couldn't actually get inside any of the properties, but the area just outside on Hudson is very much like a small upstate New York river town. I took some nice pictures before getting stopped by a private security car hired by the neighborhood committee to keep out unwanted riff-raff. I, as you could imagine, was not pleased by this and stood my ground. I was actually done visiting these blocks, so after i successfully defended my rights and shued off the hired goon, i left...feeling rather proud of myself.


There is no public access to the water for most of the area between the MB and the WB. This is taken up by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. An old outpost, this facility has been used or almost used for many purposes over the years: shipping, power plants, garbage incinerators and even a giant old Hollywood style movie studio. The ride around the yard isn't very pretty but it is very interesting. Navy to Flushing to Kent is a bike ride filled with views of empty lots, great street art, old and current shipping ports and the Domino Sugar complex. A study in New York History is in part a study of the history of the U.S. shipping industry. The East river is a major part of that. But seeing as i don't really want to study the shipping industry and my few attempts to bypass various security messures on the river were thwarted...let's move on.


Along Kent is Williamsburg. This neighborhood is one of NY's most diverse, historic and interesting. I lived in 3 apartments here and will revisit this area later on my tour. Directly under the bridge are a few dead end water openings. Dirty, probably dangerous very small openings with good views. Good spots for graffiti and any sort of clandestine activity. just before the neighborhood gets hip and expensive, (maybe now just past that) is the Grand Street park. It is a great little spot on the river. Its got a few park benches, a grassy park and some nice crumbling cement dividers with rusty barbed wire.


This spot is a very well known (in the neighborhood) sunset spot. Unlike other spots further south on the waterfront, here the sun sets over the skyline and and some points of the year, almost behind the bridge. Get a good day, like Wednesday when i went and the whole bridge gets washed in orange. This spot is special to me because the days after 9/11, I went everyday with about a dozen friends from the hood to sit and watch the smoke lifting from lower Manhattan.


There are a few other very noteworthy spots along the river further north, but that is for another trip on another day.


For now, enjoy some pics from today's journey.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Best Pizza In NYC?


New York is the pizza capital of the world, right?

Even if it wasn't invented here, it certainly has a high place of prominence on the mantle of New York culture. Everyone has a favorite pizza place. There are old family arguments over which restaurant does it right. Tourists clamour over getting that "authentic" New York style pizza. Former New Yorkers make it a necessary stop every time they visit, and brag about knowing a small hole-in-the-wall pizza spot that only they know about where some 105 year old, short Italian man hand makes every pie right in front of you from ingredients that was just airlifted from Sicily to Flatbush.

Where is the best pizza in New York?

I intend to do my best to find out. Like a lot of people here, I have eaten tons of pizza...but I have never traveled somewhere just to get a slice. Why should I, its everywhere. But this being my farewell tour to NYC, i will indeed make several pilgrimages to the spots engraved in pizza lore.

Stop #1 was yesterday: Grimaldi's Pizza in Brooklyn. Right under the Brooklyn Bridge by the Fulton Landing is the small Italian restaurant. As the sign outside says: NO SLICES. We went in sat down and ordered a small pie...perfect for 2 people (although I ate most of it). Pictures of famous patrons littered the walls. Cheesy enough as that normally is, here it is somewhat authentic. Grimaldi's was Frank Sinatras favorite place, which is probably why they have a separate spot in Sinatra's home town in Hoboken. Unfortunately we sat next to pictures of Danny Divito and Mike Bloomberg.

Verdict: Worth the trip for anyone in New York. It was a great pie. The Best? I'm not ready to call it the best quite yet. I spent the rest of the day exploring the Brooklyn Waterfront (I'll post about that later) but a nice after meal spot is the Brooklyn ice cream stand right by the landing with a great view of lower Manhattan.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

CONEY ISLAND


Coney Island is as New York as pizza, expensive broker's fees or developing needless sports arenas in residential neighborhoods. Unlike the latter however, Coney Island is a great place to go on a hot, beautiful labor-day weekend.



Me and several of my friends went early to catch a minor league baseball game (Brooklyn Cyclones 5, Staten Island Yankees 0). After the game we hung around old Astroland and I took photos as 4 of the 6 of us went for one final twirl on the legendary Cyclone roller coaster. For 6 dollars you can ride on the wooden dinosaur and then stay on for another ride for just a buck.



They are closing down the ride after the season. Next year they are knocking down most of Astroland and the buildings lining the oldest boardwalk in the country. I don't exactly know what the area is gonna look like when the development is finished, but i can guarantee it will not be nearly as fun or as affordable. Most of the Coney Island boardwalk amusement is free...that is, it doesn't cost anything to sit on the rail and people watch, or lay on the beach and catch some sun and watch a sunset, or enjoy seeing all the tourists throw their money away on carnival games like "Shoot The Freak."



We didn't go in the water (I wouldn't recommend it) and we didn't eat at Nathan's. We did see some fun baseball, drank a few fruity drinks on the pier and caught a few street acts along the way. Good day...good day indeed.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Saturday, September 1, 2007

CRITICAL MASS BIKE RIDE


One of New York's most environmentally friendly traditions goes under attack...and still prevails!!!

Last night was the 3rd anniversary of the August 2004 Critical Mass bike ride. Why is this significant? That is when a great worldwide tradition was turned into a political standoff in New York.

Critical Mass is a monthly celebration by cyclists in cities all over the world. On the last Friday of every month at a traditional location known to all, people who want to go on a large community bike ride will meet and ride around the city in celebration. They celebrate their communities, healthy living, cycling. They promote alternatives to gas-powered vehicles and promote safer streets for pedestrians of all kinds.

Here in New York, it had been a tradition that went back for decades. The monthly ride has included people of all 5 boroughs, many visiting guests, famous writers, singers and even sitting mayors have taken part. That is until the summer of 2004, when the Republic National Convention came to town.

Because of all the attention put on the city and the thousands of people in town, the ride grew to over 5,000 at least. It was a glorious ride. It was inspiring, fun, amazing and safe...until the NYPD with a brand new fleet of Vespa scooters attacked the ride at several points, injuring riders and onlookers. More than 200 people were arrested and brought to jail. Arrested for riding their bikes!!!

Since then, the mayor and several high ranking police officials made it their mission to stop this "Criminal activity." Over the next year 700 people were arrested on the rides and arrested for parading without a permit, blocking traffic, disorderly conduct and several other absurd charges. Many have speculated why? The mayor couldn't stand people having fun without permission or city sponsorship, the republican-turned democrat-turned republican mayor was embarrassed at that many people opposing the RNC he brought here, or maybe it was because they needed a reason to justify spending so much money on a fleet of shiny new scooters.

Before august 2004 it was just a nice thing to do on a Friday evening. After, it turned into a political brushfire. Once you tell people they can't do something, especially without cause, it then becomes a act of civil disobedience to defy the unjust order by the city. So, most of the family riders and happy onlookers stopped attending and just the diehards stuck around. All those willing to take a hit to defend their rights ride strong and proud.

After nearly all the arrestees were exonerated by the courts and after a short court battle ruled in favor of the riders, the city still refused to let the ride happen without incident. Arrests still happened...arrests, jail, for bike riding?

Bikes don't block traffic...they are traffic.

Bikes get hit all the time in this city and the drivers barely ever get a ticket. Riders have died by drivers going through red lights, by driving drunk, driving reckless and even by driving on the westside bike path. Only on the most egregious of these crimes do the drivers get criminal charges.

It is time to let the bikers go. Bicycling is the best way to get around the city. For many of us, it is our main source of transportation. It is clean, good exercise and cuts down on pollution and congestion. The city should be promoting more bike rides, make all streets bike friendly, promote bike safety classes and crack down on unsafe drivers who don't consider bikes to have rights of the road. At the very least it should allow bicyclists to ride without getting arrested and their bikes inpounded!

Last night's ride was yet another example of what is great about New York and how many great people there are here, continuing to ride in the face of government sponsored discrimination. Check out some pictures of the city: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/